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In a scathing 13-page memo sent last week to Clifford Chance’s New York partners, the firm’s associates explained why Clifford Chance came in last in The American Lawyer‘s 2002 Associate Survey, and further charged that the survey “captured neither the breadth nor the depth of associate anger and frustration.” The Oct. 15 memo, distilled from internal associate surveys and drafted by six associates of the firm’s personnel committee, laid out seven major areas of discontent, the most universal of which was a requirement that associates bill a total of 2,420 hours a year. This requirement “constituted the greatest area of discontent by far,” the associates said in the memo. “Indeed, only a handful of surveys did not mention the billable hour requirement as a problem at the firm.” The other areas of discontent largely concerned interactions between partners and associates, with the latter charging favoritism, poor communications, inadequate training and a general attitude of indifference among partners. The memo cited associates’ comments that “partners ‘hate’ the associates,” and that they “deeply resent paying the associates’ salaries and bonuses.” The memo also quoted an associate who called the firm’s assignment system an “old boy’s club,” and one who said that “work seems to be doled out on the basis of favoritism.” James Benedict, the firm’s managing partner for the Americas, said he was “very shocked and very disappointed” by the associates’ memo, which he had requested as part of the firm’s response to its low ranking in The American Lawyer article, featured in the October issue of the magazine, which is an affiliate of the New York Law Journal and law.com. In that survey, the London-based firm came in last or near-last out of 132 law firms in virtually all categories of associate satisfaction, including training, interest of the work and realistic billable hours. Already stung by these results, Benedict said he was further surprised by the discontent demonstrated by last week’s memo. “I felt like I was reading about a law firm I didn’t know,” he said. But Benedict also said the memo was “very helpful,” and he noted that he had asked associates to produce a brutally honest assessment of their lives at the firm. “We clearly have a problem that we need to address,” he said. “We’re committed to that.” Benedict said poor communications between partners and associates seemed to be the root of many problems. He said associates’ concern about a billing requirement was an example of miscommunication, as the firm has no formal billing requirement. The personnel committee associate agreed that the billing issue was a result of miscommunication. Many associates, he said, assumed there was a requirement to bill 2,200 client hours and 220 other hours because they believed only associates who billed such hours received a full year-end bonus. Last December, the firm announced bonuses starting at $20,000 for first-years would be paid to associates that the firm determined had “met both our quantitative and qualitative standard.” Associates quoted in last week’s memo said only a small percentage of associates received the full amount. “There’s a lot of confusion among associates about what it means to be in good standing at the firm,” the associate said. “The partners need to address that.” Benedict said the firm has already taken several steps to address associate dissatisfaction, including commissioning last week’s memo and holding an earlier firmwide “Town Hall” meeting. Partner David Taub is also leading a group of partners who will come up with specific means of raising associate morale and satisfaction, and an outside consultant has been retained to interview associates and suggest further improvements.

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